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Create CDs easily with easy CD Creator.

Burning CD-ROM discs was an enigmatic, almost "voodoo" practice in the early 1990s. The first real breakthrough in price/performance came in 1994 from a small Italian company, InCat Systems, with its user-friendly software, Easy CD. It was a capable and, at $750, relatively inexpensive program for that time. Later it was enhanced and also ported from Windows to Macintosh under the name Easy CD-Pro. Despite what you may think, the name was not an oxymoron. The Windows version was really easy and offered professional features (although the Mac version left something to be desired).

The second breakthrough was heralded when Corel entered the market with its CD Creator software. It had a wizard that made single-session and multisession CD-ROM recording a cinch. It was released in 1995 for Windows 95 at a very affordable $250. Not accidentally, some companies that made good money on CD-ROM premastering and formatting software went out of this business, or at least dropped this line of business in 1995 and 1996.

This was the time to move in for Adaptec, a company that had been the most widely favored SCSI controller manufacturer among those who used CD-Recordable drives professionally. Adaptec first bought InCat Systems, then the CD Creator Software, and the best Mac CD-ROM recording software, Toast. There were a few more products for the Windows and Mac platforms, primarily from Germany and the Netherlands, and there were some for the UNIX platform. But all of a sudden, Adaptec found itself in a strong position in terms of software, and it promised to come out with a new product.

I assumed that these moves presaged a rise in price again, with Adaptec capitalizing on a quasi-monopolistic market position. But I was wrong. After some delay, Adaptec finally came out with Easy CD Creator Deluxe late last summer--at an incredibly good price of $99 for an incredibly good product. I had ample grounds for choosing it the "Most bang for the buck product of the year" in my "Cheers and Jeers for 1997" column two months ago

Standard vs. Deluxe Version

A standard version of Easy CD Creator comes bundled with many new CD-ROM recorders. It is in itself an excellent product, and not just because it is free. It is perfectly appropriate for someone who wants to record data files from a hard drive or a Zip/Jaz drive, or sound files from hard disks, or songs from audio CDs. But if you want to copy CD-ROM discs or create PhotoCD or VideoCD discs, or record songs from an LP, a cassette player, or a CD player connected to your PC, these functions are available only in the Deluxe version. I'll deal here only with the features of the standard version, saving the features exclusive to the Deluxe version for this month's Multimedia Medley column. While I wouldn't normally devote an entire column to a single product, I think Easy CD Creator Deluxe is so impressive that it deserves this treatment.

The standard version came out at the best time to promote the sale and use of CD-ROM Recordable drives by the masses. It makes burning CD-ROMs child's play, but at the same time it offers an impressive set of options for those who want to archive files, distribute large sets of text, image and/or digital sound files, and databases to some clients, partners, reviewers, etc.

Formats Supported

The CD-ROM formats that have evolved since 1986 from the CD-DA (digital audio) format constitute a maddening alphabet soup, ranging from CD-ROM XA for extended architecture) to CD-I (for interactive) to CD Extra (also known as Enhanced CD, which accommodates audio and data tracks in a fashion that permits the audio to be played on a plain vanilla CD player). Easy CD Creator also supports Mixed Mode CD-ROM, which combines data and audio files--placing the former on the first track and the latter on the remaining tracks. This format can only be played on CD-ROM drives. Easy CD Creator can also create multisession discs when the files are recorded at different times, as is typical when the CD-ROM is used as a backup medium.

Easy CD Creator can create CD-ROMs either in the traditional ISO 9660 format--which is cross-platform compatible on DOS, Windows, MacOS, and UNIX computers--or in the Joliet format--which is limited to DOS and Windows. The advantage of this latter format is that more informative long file names can be used for Windows 95 users, but Easy CD Creator also records the names of the files in standard DOS format generated from the long file name.

Designing the CD-ROM Layout

Even absolute beginners are gently led through the process of creating a CD-ROM database using the Easy CD Creator wizard. Selecting directories and/or individual files is done through the familiar Windows Explorer layout by dragging them from the source drive(s) and dropping them on the destination drive's map.

Once the directories and subdirectories that are to be recorded are identified, a "dry-run test" can be initiated in which the software simply goes through the motions of fetching the files and writing them onto the CD-ROM (see Figure 1). An even simpler test process can produce instant benchmark data about the transfer rate of the source and destination drives both for small and large files.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Creating the CD Image on Hard Disk

It is possible to create a CD-ROM image file on the hard drive prior to copying the files onto the CD-ROM. This is perhaps needed only if many small files from several directories are to be fetched from the source drive(s). The overhead associated with getting hundreds of files scattered round the source drive may slow down the direct CD recording process and may result in buffer underrun that destroys the disc. Once the image has been successfully created on the hard disk (see Figure 2), the actual burning of the CD-ROM is a safe process of simply copying one big image file. It's akin to having all the pupils in a kindergarten class line up in a row right at the traffic light before crossing the road, rather than calling some of them over from the sandbox and the swing while others have already started across the street.

[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This image creation process on the hard drive could be also a preferred alternative to direct writing to the CD if several large files are to be created day after day but there is no need to put them on CD-ROM immediately. They can be placed in a staging area for a while, and when a few hundred megabytes worth of files are available, then the recording may begin.

This may also give you an opportunity to reorganize the files irrespective of their sequencing in the staging area. Files can be assigned three priority levels: normal, faster access, and fastest access. Based on these priorities, Easy CD Creator will take care of optimizing the file sequencing on the CD-ROM to reduce access time and transfer rate for often-needed files, such as the table of contents file. Files can be renamed and removed before the CD-ROM creation process starts.

Updating Files on the CD-ROM

Files recorded earlier to the CD-ROM can be updated, and new data can be added later. This process is not the most efficient, and a lot of storage is wasted for overhead. But with the decreasing price of blank recordable discs, your convenience matters more than 10 megabytes wasted here and 10 more there for multisession recording. This is not identical to CD-ROM rewritting, which I'll discuss in an upcoming column. In multisession recording, the second, third, etc. sessions include not only the new information added but also information that points to files created in the previous session. This is known as importing previous session, and it is the default option.

Imagine this as inserting new pages in a manuscript with their own page numbers and then renumbering the whole chapter for the table of contents, with data carried over the updated from the previous version of the manuscript. The existing text doesn't change; only new data are added and the table of contents is re-created based on its previous status and the new update. This process is transparent to users as long as they don't want to import sessions older than the previous session. Another consideration is that there was CD-ROM drives still in use that cannot read multisession discs and recognize only one session (the first or the last--depending one the model).

Extras in the Standard Version

There are two extra services available in the standard version of Easy CD Creator. One is the set of tools that enables users to create nice jewel case inserts for their home-burned CD-ROMs. The other is a more controversial one, even with the simple version in the standard edition. It allows you to copy individual songs from an audio CD or digital audio files in computer-readable file format (such as .wav). This is an interesting and popular feature making it possible to mix a disc of your favorite tracks from different CDs--duly observing copyright rules that are heavily debated in light of these new, inexpensive, and easy methods of copying music.

Although mixing your own audio CD may be legally contested, creating CD-ROM databases of your own files is not. And it can't be any easier than with Easy CD Creator.

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the department of information and computer science at the University of Hawaii. He writes for this and other professional magazines, speaks at professional conferences, and regularly offers his online/CD-ROm workshop series. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.
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Author:Jacso, Peter
Publication:Information Today
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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